Ray Saltini
on June 17, 2013

What is omni channel marketing and how will it effect your web development decisions?

As marketing professionals we get paid to turn a phrase on behalf of our clients but we are no less creative when we turn the lens inward to focus on our own strategies. Recently the term omni channel marketing has come into more common usage in the digital space. So what  is omni channel marketing and why should marketing managers and web development directors care?

Omni what?

Omni channel is not the same thing as multi channel or cross channel marketing but it is a logical extension of these established methods. In fact it has been the developing maturity and complexity of the digital space that has made omni channel marketing possible and created new opportunities - and new threats for those who are not ready - to bring products, services and indeed content to market and to compete for sales.

Omni channel marketing is the practice of developing, distributing and supporting carefully coordinated messaging across one or more mediums or platforms in a manner that is mindful, contextual and dynamic. Omni channel marketing is as much about managing customer satisfaction and experiences as it is about communicating the value of a product or service. Retailers were the first segment to begin using the term. Most searches will in fact turn up references to omni channel retailing and there are some good lessons to be learned from retail's experience.

Lets dive a little deeper. What does it mean for an effort to be mindful, contextual and dynamic?

Mindful - To be mindful each channel implementation must be planned and executed in awareness of every other. That means digital channels are aware of one another and mindful of the consumer; applications are communicating, exchanging and syncing data about the who, what, where, when and how of the user. Your website needs to know what experiences members of your target market segment are talking about and having on Facebook. It ought to know if a consumer has used a brand app or if there has been an in-store purchase or experience. And it should be mindful of the qualitative aspects of each interaction. Was the experience enjoyable, would it be recommended to a friend? If your channels are aware of each other and sharing the right qualified data then they can triangulate around a call to action or conversion goal. This includes smart implementations of email, mobile/SMS, social media, web experience, digital print and display advertising. 

Contextual - Consistency is good but context is better. Decision makers are overstimulated with information and experiences at every level and through every medium. A campaign that has the same look and feel across different channels can help reduce chatter, and consistency is certainly a big part of the equation, but a campaign that is smart enough to deliver an experience based on the consumer's context has much greater potential to resonate all the way through to the 'buy now' button or check out line. Context guides convenience and convenience wins the customer service contest every time.

Dynamic - Dynamic as in a datastore that will continuously update based on user interactions. Your program will need to update your target market profiles with each and every contact. All this data will need to be modeled, categorized and tagged in order for it to be served up and utilized by other parts of your omni channel program and distilled into useful informational reports for managers.

So now that we have a better understanding of just what omni channel marketing is and is not, what is the significance for website and web application development? If you still have friends or colleagues that think they have an omni channel strategy simply because they're building responsive websites that will look good in any browser on any device you can refer them to the first part of this post and they too will understand it is significantly more than that.

The three aspects of omni channel marketing can make for a hugely successful strategy but putting all three into play can be complex and expensive if your platforms are not powerful and nimble enough to adapt. 

A Perfect Use Case for Open Source

Open source technologies are by their very nature the optimal platform for omni channel marketing strategies. Many of these technologies make it their business to play well with others. Blink Reaction's open source consultancy is built around Drupal as a core technology in part because it has a robust, mature API that is supported by enterprise class services such as the Acquia Cloud and Acquia Network. Drupal 7 supports web services handily and improvements scheduled for release in Drupal 8 next year will make it even more powerful and easy to use as a web services platform. 

If IT or another part of your organization has been resistant to open source technologies push for a platform such as Drupal to be a test case for an omni channel marketing program. Because Drupal is open source you can begin to prototype your program without any licensing fees and less custom programming cost, a distinct advantage it has over proprietary choices. 

The Rise of Big Data, Customer Experience and the Chief Digital Officer

Big data is the linchpin around which omni channel marketing is built. Without fast bi-directional data transfer and storage and the platforms to support them for each channel the concept would have no legs. One of the reasons we use Drupal is because as a data agnostic platform there are many different data connectors and other methods of connecting to disparate data stores. Drupal can be cached extensively allowing developers to build highly performant sights that can accommodate millions of users. Blink and Acquia worked with the MTA on data mind.mta.info to create a Drupal powered developer portal for real-time transit feeds that can accommodate 5,000 hits per second.

But big data has the potential to be the Achilles heel of many a well conceived marketing campaign. More than any other marketing imperative of the last few years omni channel will be the most disruptive. Organizations that want to be consistently successful in this area will have to begin to break out of the traditional marketing and IT silos. And that is simply because siloed data and systems are very difficult to turn into useful information of any kind. It's not the stuff good sound customer experience is made of. And good sound customer experience will be the value-added edge marketers will claim their bonuses over. 

The winner in this long fought battle between marketing and IT will be the new Chief Digital Officer. Don't have one yet? Trends show that you may have one very soon. More and more organizations will be investing in Chief Digital Officers to liberate marketing goals from the glacial pace of IT while maintaining compliance and limiting risk. One of the key imperatives of the CDO will be to create the highest quality blended customer experience attainable while ensuring optimal data integrity, system performance and price. Technologies that offer winning solutions to this problem will have a clear advantage over others. Those that offer rapid development and lower opportunity costs will be the first out of the gate and play a critical role in securing early successes. 

Resistance if Futile, Embrace Omni Now

We have a not-so-inside joke at Blink - it's the phrase 'Resistance is Futile'. We use it to describe the inexorable trend toward open source technologies like Drupal. We can just as easily use it to describe the trend toward omni channel methods and programs. If all this technological openness and context seems implausible - consider that just a few years ago we laughed at the prospect of cars that could park for you let alone a self driving car. But self-driving cars are legal in at least three states now. And what's at the core of that technology? Lots of sensors and a smart datastore. If we're ready to handle those equations at 60+ mph you can bet lots of organizations will be ready to take on the challenges of omni channel marketing. 

Omni channel is undeniably powerful. Only time will tell if in fact the rapid pace of innovation and adoption by the consumer market and the growing pace among enterprise business to business clients helps make omni channel strategies just another unavoidable cost of doing business. As in most cases, organizations that are good at adapting to new methods will win the day or at the least win the right to continue to compete. Those that delay or make poor choices will certainly have fewer competitive advantages in a shrinking market of laggards and luddites. It's a challenge marketing directors will either rise to or get trodden by. Laying down a strong foundation for it now in your web platforms will enable smart managers to navigate swiftly and successfully.

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